UPDATE - 9/30/20: This bill has been amended from its original form to serve as the legislative vehicle for coronavirus relief legislation introduced by House Democrats. In its original form, the bill reauthorized wetlands programs. In its current form, the bill is known as HEROES 2.0 or the Updated HEROES Act, the bill would provide more than $2.2 trillion in funding to agencies at all levels of government, individuals, and businesses during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. It would enact another round of stimulus payments to eligible residents as under the CARES Act with reforms to broaden eligibility for such payments; extend enhanced unemployment benefits through January 2021; require states to provide two weeks of early voting, vote-by-mail, plus allow voter registration online & on the same day as a person votes starting with the November 2020 election. A breakdown of the 2,154 page bill’s various provisions can be found below.
Recovery Rebates: This section would authorize an additional Economic Impact Payment totaling up to $1,200 for individual U.S. residents ($2,400 for married joint filers) who aren’t dependents and have a Social Security number or a Taxpayer Identification Number. Those amounts would increase by $500 for each dependent, including full-time students below age 24 and adult dependents.
There would be no phase-in, so Americans with no income and those whose income stems entirely from a non-taxable, means-tested benefits program (like Social Security) would be eligible for the full rebate check. Payments would be reduced for higher income taxpayers and begin phasing out at $75,000 in adjusted gross income (AGI) for individual taxpayers & $150,000 AGI for married filers. The recovery rebate amount would be reduced by $5 for each $100 a taxpayer’s income exceeds the phase-out threshold; and it would phase out entirely for single taxpayers with incomes over $99,000 & married filers with AGI exceeding $198,000. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) would base these AGI amounts on the taxpayer’s 2019 tax return if it’s been filed, or on their 2018 tax return if not.
There would be some changes made to the recovery rebate program relative to CARES Act, including:
All dependents eligible for the $500 Economic Impact Payment that was previously limited to children under the age of 17 by the CARES Act, so adults with adult dependents or full-time students under age 24 would be able to receive the $500 amount.
Economic Impact Payments (EIPs) could be provided to individuals who provide a Taxpayer Identification Number, not just to people with Social Security numbers as required under the CARES Act. This would allow certain unauthorized immigrants who are ineligible to obtain a Social Security number to receive EIPs.
Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC): Eligibility for the EITC would be expanded, with the minimum age for a childless recipient lowered from 25 to 19 (except for full-time students) and the upper age limit raised from 65 to 66. The childless EITC amount and its phaseout would both be increased, effectively increasing the maximum credit amount from $538 to $1,487.
Child Tax Credit (CTC): The CTC would be fully refundable for 2020.
State & Local Tax Deduction (SALT): The $10,000 cap on the state & local tax deduction would be eliminated for the 2020 tax year.
Tax Credits to Prevent Business Interruption: The applicable percentage of qualified wages reimbursed through the employee retention credit would rise from 50% to 80%, and the limit on wages taken into account would increase from $10,000 per year to $15,000 per quarter (limited to $45,000 per year). Additional changes & relief would include:
The limitation on excess business losses of non-corporate taxpayers would be restored and made permanent. This provision was suspended by the CARES Act for tax years beginning in 2018, 2019, and 2020. Taxpayers with net operating losses arising in tax years beginning in 2018 could carryback those net operating losses if they don’t engage in excessive executive compensation or excessive stock buybacks & dividends from those carrybacks.
The $600 per week federal supplement of unemployment benefits would be extended through January 31, 2021, with a “soft cutoff” to allow individuals already receiving regular state unemployment benefits at that time to continue to receive the supplement until March 31, 2021. Under the CARES Act, recipients were able to receive the enhanced unemployment benefits until the end of August 2020, and executive actions by President Donald Trump offered a partial and temporary extension of the benefits.
The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefit to workers who don’t qualify for regular unemployment compensation would also be extended through January 31, 2021, and allow them to receive benefits through March 31, 2021. A 50% federal reimbursement of short-time compensation payments made under state law would be extended through January 31, 2021.
States that lack funds to pay out unemployment claims can continue to receive interest-free loans from the federal government through June 30, 2021, instead of only through December 31, 2020. Provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that provided temporary full federal financing of extended unemployment benefits for high-unemployment states which normally require a 50% state contribution would continue through June 30, 2021.
A Public Health and Social Services Emergency Fund would be established and funded with $125 billion. It would include $75 billion for testing, contact tracing, and other activities necessary to effectively monitor and suppress COVID-19; and $50 billion in grants for hospital and healthcare providers to be reimbursed healthcare-related expenses or lost revenue directly attributable to the public health emergency resulting from coronavirus.
The Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) would be required to update the COVID-19 strategic testing plan required by the Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act within 30 days of this bill’s enactment. The update should identify the types and levels of testing necessary to monitor and contribute to the control of COVID-19 and inform any reduction in social distancing; in addition to benchmarks with timelines for specific plans regarding the availability and allocation of testing materials and supplies, laboratory and personnel capacity, and specific guidelines to ensure adequate testing in vulnerable populations and populations at increased risk to COVID-19, such as older individuals, and rural or other underserved areas.
Medicaid: The Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) payments to state Medicaid programs would be increased by a total of 14% from October 1, 2020, to September 30, 2021. Federal payments to state Medicaid programs for home & community based services would increase by 10% during that period. Cost-sharing for Medicaid beneficiaries receiving COVID-19 treatment and vaccines would be eliminated during the COVID-19 public health emergency.
Medicare: Beneficiaries would have zero cost-sharing or out-of-pocket expenses for COVID-19 treatment under Medicare Parts A & B, or prescriptions under Medicare Advantage during the public health emergency.
Private Insurance: A two month special enrollment period through Affordable Care Act exchanges would be established to allow uninsured individuals to enroll in insurance plans. Ordinarily, the exchanges can only be accessed during open enrollment or because the would-be enrollee had a qualifying life event (like losing their job & employer-provided coverage). COVID-19 related treatment would have to be covered with no cost sharing to the patient.
Other Health Provisions:
COVID-19 related treatment would be covered with no cost sharing for federal civilians, veterans, and people enrolled in TRICARE.
The president would be required to appoint a Medical Supplies Response Coordinator to serve as the point of contact for the healthcare system, supply chain officials, and states on medical supplies such as PPE, medical devices, drugs, and vaccines.
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) would be authorized to destroy counterfeit devices, and would be able to enforce a requirement that drug manufacturers develop a risk management plan.
HHS would be required to award contracts, grants, cooperative agreements, and enter into other transactions as appropriate to expand & enhance manufacturing capacity of vaccines and vaccine candidates to prevent the spread of COVID-19, along with critical drug and high priority medical devices.
This section would require states & jurisdictions to establish federal election contingency plans in response to natural disasters & emergencies, and update those plans at least every five years. Those plans would include initiatives to provide equipment and resources necessary to protect the health & safety of poll workers & voters and to recruit poll workers from resilient & unaffected populations. The Attorney General would be permitted to bring a civil action in federal court as necessary to carry out the requirements of this section and permit a private right of action.
Early Voting: At least 15 consecutive days of early voting would be required for federal elections beginning with the November 2020 federal election and all successive elections. Early voting would have to be at least 10 hours each day and allow for voting prior to 9:00am and after 5:00pm, and polling places with early voting would have to be within walking distance of a stop on a public transportation route and be available in rural areas of the state. States would be required to begin processing & scanning ballots cast during the early voting period at least 14 days prior to election day.
Vote-by-Mail: Access to no-excuse absentee vote-by-mail would be required for all voters beginning with the November 2020 federal election. States would be prohibited from imposing additional conditions or requirements for eligibility to vote by absentee ballot on people who are already eligible voters. States would be prohibited from requiring any form of identification to obtain an absentee ballot, although requiring a signed affirmation of identity would be permitted. States would be prohibited from requiring notarization or witness signatures to obtain or to cast an absentee ballot. Voters could opt-in to voting permanently by absentee ballot by mail in their absentee voting applications, which could be submitted online. States would be required to establish an absentee ballot tracking program, and ensure that ballots and related voting materials are accessible to voters with disabilities.
Voter Registration: States would be required to establish online voter registration with technological security measures to protect information provided through online voter registration services. States would also be required to ensure all eligible individuals can register to vote on the same day that they vote in November 2020, and couldn’t require registration applicants to provide more than the last four digits of their social security numbers.
The Election Assistance Commission would be required to make payments to eligible states or political parties for the purpose of complying with these requirements.
$20 million would be provided for states to conduct risk-limiting audits with respect to general elections.
This section would provide additional funding for COVID-19 relief to a variety of federal agencies and programs.
Financial Services & General Government:
Fiscal Relief for Government: $238 billion to assist state governments with the fiscal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic; $179 billion to assist local governments; $9.5 billion to assist tribal governments; and $9.5 billion to assist territories.
Housing Relief: $21 billion would be provided to states, territories, and tribes to address the needs of homeowners by providing direct assistance with mortgage payments, property taxes, property insurance, utilities, and other housing related costs.
Postal Service: $15 billion would be provided to the U.S. Postal Service for revenue foregone due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with increased protections for Postal workers & an additional $15 million for the Postal Service Inspector General to conduct oversight.
Small Business Grants: $50 billion in grants would be provided to small businesses that have suffered financial losses as a result of the pandemic.
Election Grants: $3.6 billion in grants would be provided to states for contingency planning, preparation, and resilience of federal elections.
Labor, Health & Human Services, Education, & Related Agencies:
Public Health & Social Services Emergency Fund: $125 billion would be added to the fund to reimburse for healthcare related expenses or lost revenue attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as to support contact tracing & COVID-19 monitoring & suppression.
Dept. of Education: $225 billion would be provided to support the educational needs of states, school districts, and institutions of higher education in response to the pandemic. It would include a $208 billion State Fiscal Stabilization Fund for grants to support state & local funding for elementary and secondary schools & public postsecondary institutions.
Administration for Children & Families: $1.175 billion would be provided for supportive & social services for families & children.
Health Resources & Services Administration: $9.2 billion would be provided to support expanded healthcare services for underserved populations.
National Institutes of Health (NIH): $4.7 billion to expand COVID-19-related research on the NIH campus and at academic institutions across the country and to support the shutdown & startup costs of biomedical research laboratories nationwide.
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC): $13.7 billion to support federal, state, and local public health agencies to prevent, prepare for, and respond to the coronavirus.
Transportation, Housing & Urban Development, & Related Agencies:
Emergency Rental Assistance: $50 billion to provide emergency assistance to help low-income renters at risk of homelessness avoid eviction due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Transit Emergency Relief: $32 billion for operating assistance grants to support the transit agencies that require significant additional assistance to maintain basic transit services.
Homeless Assistance Grants: $11.5 billion for Emergency Solutions Grants to address the impact of coronavirus among individuals & families who are homeless or at risk of homelessness.
Rental Assistance: $2 billion for public housing agencies to provide tenant-based rental assistance.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): $10 billion to support anticipated increases in participation & to cover program costs increases related to flexibilities provided to SNAP by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.
Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children: $400 million to provide access to nutritious foods to low-income pregnant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the COVID-19 emergency.
Interior, Environment, & Related Agencies:
Dept. of the Interior: $1 billion for building hospitals & critical infrastructure.
Indian Health Service: $2.3 billion to address healthcare needs for Native Americans, including $1 billion for lost third party revenues as a result of reduced medical care, $500 million for the provision of healthcare, and $600 million to provide isolation & quarantine space.
The National Endowment for the Arts would receive $135 million in grants to support general operations.
The National Endowment for the Humanities would also receive $135 million in grants to support the general operations of recipients.
Pandemic Justice Response Act Grants: A total of $600 million, including $500 million to prevent, detect, and stop the presence of COVID-19 in correctional institutions & for pre-trial citation & release grants; $25 million for rapid COVID-19 testing and correctional institutions; and $75 million for juvenile services.
Second Chance Act Grants: $250 million to help facilitate the reintegration of ex-prisoners back into society & to prevent recidivism.
Violence Against Women Act Programs: $100 million would be provided with a waiver of the local match requirement, including $30 million for grants to combat violence against women, $15 million for transitional housing assistance, $15 million for sexual assault victims, and $10 million for rural domestic violence & child abuse enforcement assistance.
A total of $35 billion in funding would be appropriated for carrying out Small Business Administration’s loan programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and the Emergency Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program.
Paycheck Protection Program (PPP): Several changes would be made to the PPP:
A Prioritized PPP loan product would be established to give second PPP loans (P4 loans) of up to $2 million to small businesses with fewer than 200 employees that have suffered demonstrable quarterly revenue losses of at least 25%.
Smaller dollar amount loans (under $150,000) would be eligible for streamlined forgiveness under a three-tier system, with borrowers required to keep documentation available for a future audit.
PPP loans could be used for PPE, supplier costs, and costs related to property damage from civil disturbances.
PPP loans couldn’t be used to compensate registered lobbyists.
Publicly traded entities and foreign owned, controlled, and managed firms would be ineligible for PPP loans.
All non-profits would be eligible for PPP loans, with non-profits over 500 employees required to demonstrate a revenue reduction.
Additionally, destination marketing organizations (DMOs); small, local news broadcast entities; quasi-public venues would be eligible for PPP loans.
Critical access hospitals would be eligible for PPP loans regardless of their bankruptcy status.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s (SNAP) benefit level would be increased, with the minimum benefit increased to $30 per month. The USDA would be directed to allow the use of SNAP to purchase hot foods or hot food products for immediate consumption from authorized retail food stores.
Livestock producers would be paid for their animals by requiring dealer trusts for the benefit of all unpaid cash sellers of livestock. Producers who are forced to euthanize market-ready livestock due to local processing plant disruptions caused by COVID-19 would receive emergency assistance.
A direct dairy donation program would be established to prevent dumped milk and facilitate rapid donations of displaced dairy products directly to feeding programs, and reimburse at current Class I prices.
SUPPORT FOR ESSENTIAL WORKERS & AT-RISK PEOPLE
The Social Services Block Grant (SSBG) authorization level would be increased to $11.325 billion in 2020, with $9.6 billion directly appropriated to SSBG to provide emergency aid and services to disadvantaged children, families, and households.
Child welfare & support programs, and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) would receive emergency flexibility to allow for compliance with public health directives.
FAMILY & WORKER PROTECTIONS
Family & Medical Leave Expansion: This section would suspend until December 31, 2022, the current 1,250 hour eligibility requirement and reduce the tenure eligibility requirement from 12 months to 90 days. The availability of Emergency Family & Medical Leave benefits would be extended from December 31, 2020 to February 28, 2021. Workers could use paid sick leave benefits for uses allowed under family & medical leave, and could use paid sick leave in addition to existing employer-provided paid leave through February 28, 2021.
Workforce Protections: The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) would issue an emergency temporary standard (ETS) within 7 days of enactment to protect healthcare & other workers at occupational risk of exposure to COVID-19. The ETS would require employers to develop & implement a comprehensive infectious disease exposure control plan to protect workers from exposure to coronavirus using guidance from federal agencies, and could be no less protective than a state OSHA plan.
CONSUMER PROTECTIONS & TELECOMMUNICATIONS
Housing: This section of the bill would authorize $50 billion for an Emergency Rental Assistance program that would provide funds to states, territories, counties, and cities to help renters pay their rent and utility bills during the pandemic. It would also authorize $21 billion to meet the needs of homeowners struggling to afford their housing directly or indirectly because of the pandemic. The eviction & foreclosure moratoriums in the CARES Act would be extended and expanded. To address homelessness, this section would authorize $5 billion for the Emergency Solutions Grants program to help state & local governments finance housing & health related services; and $1 billion for Housing Choice Vouchers targeted to people experiencing or at risk of homelessness.
Credit Protections & Debt Collection: Negative credit reporting would be suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic and other declared major disasters plus 120 days. A temporary moratorium on small business and nonprofit debt collection will be provided for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis and for 120 days thereafter.
Price Gouging Prevention: The sale of consumer goods & services at “unconscionably excessive prices” would be prohibited. The Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general would be authorized to enforce the law and impose civil penalties on price gougers.
Internet Access: This section would authorize a temporary disbursement through the E-Rate program for schools & libraries to provide internet service in a technologically neutral way to students & teachers, prioritizing those without internet access at home. Households with a member that has been furloughed would get a $50 benefit for broadband service, while tribal residents would get a $75 benefit. Broadband & telephone providers would be prohibited from terminating service due to a customer’s inability to pay their bill because of financial hardships caused by the pandemic.
Multiemployer Pension Reform: This section would authorize the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation to take on some of the benefits of a failing multiemployer pension plan through a partition program so that the plan can stay solvent. The partition program would be in effect through 2024, and would provide troubled multiemployer pension plans with enough funding to keep them solvent for 30 years without suspending benefits to beneficiaries & participants.
Single Employer Pension Plans: For plan years beginning in 2020, shortfalls could be amortized over 15 years instead of seven years.
Student Loan Relief: The suspension of payments for federal loans under the CARES Act would be extended through September 30, 2021 with a 30-day transition period where any missed payments after the suspension ends don’t result in collection fees and aren’t reported to consumer reporting agencies. Borrowers under an income-driven repayment plan wouldn’t have to recertify their income or family size until after December 30, 2021.
Repayment protections under the CARES Act would be extended to private student loan borrowers. Economically distressed borrowers who had a monthly income-contingent or income-based repayment plan payment of $0; were in default on their student loan; had a payment at least 90 days past due; or had a loan in deferment due to economic or health hardship would receive a $10,000 write down of the federal or private student loan balance. The Treasury Dept. would reimburse federal student loan borrowers for the lower of payments made or amounts due between March 13, 2020, and the date of enactment. Additionally, no-interest repayment protections for Dept. of Education loans would be extended through September 2021.